14 August 2008
| Who are the players at the position?
Roy Upchurch - #5 – JR – 6-0 – 201 lbs. – 2 Varsity Letters
Glenn Coffee - #38 – JR – 6-2 – 197 lbs. – 2 Varsity Letters
Terry Grant - #29 – SO – 5-10 – 190 lbs. – 1 Varsity Letter
Jeramie Griffin - #34 – FR – 6-2 – 228 lbs. – Redshirt
Mark Ingram - #22 – FR – 5-10 – 215 lbs. – True Freshman
Ivan Matchett - #31 – FR – 5-10 – 215 lbs. – True Freshman
Chris Jordan - #36 – FR – 6-2 – 220 lbs. – True Freshman
Who is the expected starter?
Coffee and Grant split the starting duties last year between suspensions and injuries. I expect them to do the same this year, hopefully without the injuries and suspensions.
Who is the expected backup?
Roy Upchurch was thought to be the guy headed into fall camp, but it looks as though he might have already been passed by incoming freshman Ingram.
Alabama’s rushing attack has been abysmal the last 2 seasons. Heading into the 2006 season Kenneth Darby
was coming off of a 1,242 yard season that had him primed to break Shaun Alexander’s
school record for career rushing yards. Injuries and off of the field problems hampered that, and that has seemed to be the m.o. for the Tide ground attack since.
Grant started off last season looking like he had solved that problem. He racked up 415 yards and 5 TDs in Bama’s 1st 3 games of the season en route to being the SEC’s Offensive Freshman of the Week for all 3 weeks. He had just 193 yards over the next 4 weeks before appearing to return to form with 104 against Tennessee. He totaled just 194 yards the remainder of the season, even missing the Tide’s final 2 games, dealing with a sports hernia. Off season surgery corrected that right after the season, and he looks to have made a full recovery.
Coffee’s season was headed in the right direction for a while, also. Serving as Grant’s backup for the first 7 games, he managed 419 yards and 4 TDs. Then came the 4 games suspension. Coming back for the final two games, he managed 132 yards, right about his season average. He's not flashy, more of a Dennis Riddle guy, but he gets the job done.
With Coffee out due to suspension, and Grant suffering from injury, Bama had to use a combination of Upchurch, walk-on Jonathan Lowe
and Jimmy Johns
in an attempt to put together some form of rushing attack. It didn’t work.
After scoring 17 rushing TDs through the first 8 games of the season, Bama managed just 2 over the final 5. The rock bottom game came against LSU when Bama had just 20 yards rushing, a total that was hurt by 53 yards lost on 7 sacks. In Bama’s 4 losses in November the Tide averaged just 112 yards on the ground. That just won’t cut it.
The biggest key for the Tide rushing attack this year could be depth. Bama has 7 scholarship players listed at the running back position (Griffin can play both running back and fullback). If injuries or off field problems arise this season, running back coach Burton Burns
will have real talent, albeit inexperienced talent, to fall back on. All 3 of the incoming freshman reported to camp ready to play physically. They are already among the most physically imposing backs on the roster, and any of the 3 could jump into the fray if asked for.
The running backs will be asked to do more than just run this year, much more so than last season. Bama backs accounted for 59 receptions last year, a total I expect to be passed in the first 7 or 8 games of the season. In the first scrimmage Alabama had 2 backs (Coffee and Ingram) catch 12 balls. Jim McElwain’s offense relies heavily on screens and dump passes to the guys out of the backfield, and this group seems ready and qualified to fill that role.
Grant pulled down 26 catches last year, and had the highlight of A-Day when he turned a 10 yard crossing route into a 70 yard TD catch. His ability to make things happen when he gets the ball “in space” should make him a major threat in the passing attack.
Coffee averaged right at 2 receptions per game that he played in last year, and Upchurch pulled down another 7. Through early drills in fall camp, all three of the Tides incoming players looked great catching the ball, with Ingram the strongest.
Both Jim McElwain
and Nick Saban
love to spread the ball around, so there could be enough carries for 4 guys to see the ball a significant amount of time - McElwain’s 2007 Fresno State squad had 4 guys top 100 carries.
At the moment my guess is that Grant and Coffee are the first two guys, with the starting nod being up for grabs each week. Ingram has positioned himself squarely in the battle for carries, and his combination of power and speed is unmatched by any other Tide back. Upchurch would be the 4th guy, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bama go with a 3-man rotation.
That leaves Griffin, Matchett and Jordan to battle for the scraps, though with Jordan and Matchett eligible for redshirts, my guess is if they don’t crack the top four, they won’t play. Griffin might see some time in short yardage, though most of his snaps look to come from the fullback spot. He played running back in high school, so he could be the guy that Bama turns to when it needs a tough yard.
McElwain’s 2007 Fresno team averaged 210.9 yards per game on the ground, compared to 149.2 for Bama. Obviously the defenses are tougher in the SEC, so that 200 mark might not be cracked, but I expect we’ll see the Tide running backs considerably more effective in 2008. The stable is deeper, and at least at the moment healthier. Consistency will be the key as the group looks to give John Parker Wilson
some help on the offensive side of the ball.
glen55's Quick Hits
** Out of the 22 positions, running back is the one where you need the most depth. Still, four or five guys is sufficient; seven is excessive, especially when you consider that there's not a senior among the bunch. I'm looking for a couple to move at some point, and if I had to guess I'd probably say Griffin to linebacker and Jordan to safety, linebacker, or tight end.
** At any rate, depth appears to be handled, and the questions are who is the starter and how good will he be? I'm really hoping that somebody is going to stand out, as opposed to rotating through a bunch of slightly different flavors of 4.2 yards per carry as we did last year. A healthy Grant is the best bet based on his performance early in '07; Mark Ingram might be the next bet. I have been hoping B.J. Scott would get a shot, but at least to this point if that is happening it is a secret guarded like the locations of nuclear subs.
I'm accustomed to Bama's tailback being at least Honorable Mention All-SEC. Nothing short of that will do.
**One note on the November collapse nxojkt pointed out - Caldwell and M. Davis were on the bench as textbook peddlers, and by the time it got really bad the last couple of regular-season games, B.J. Stabler's knees had worn out and it was really getting down to cases on the offensive line. With Davis and Caldwell back, the production of 132 against Colorado was, if not good enough, not really terrible when you consider Grant didn't play at all.